Swimming in a gigantic bowl of creamy milk, what a dream!

I wish I’d had this dream, but this is Colin’s, the cute and fun cat in Leigh Hodgkinson‘s book Colin and the wrong Shadow. My son picked it  up at the library and decided that reading it twice was not enough (which I guess is always a good sign). Since then (a mere 10 hours ago) we’ve probably read it another six or seven times, and I would not be surprised to hear that his father has also been solicited! I am not sure what my son prefers in this book but here is a list of the things he has appreciated and underlined as we read together:

1-the cereal shaped ‘o’ going from Colin’s head to the giant bowl full of milk he is dreaming about      

2.the giant elephant shadow and the little pink mouse Vernon

3-the bouncy flowers that make Vernon jump like a super-dooper star and his tuba&mask at the end of the story

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From this list you would not know that this book is all about Colin’s search for his lost shadow, but it is. After realising that the funny feeling he has when waking up is due to his new mouse-shaped shadow, Colin tries to ignore the sniggering of other cats. But this is really hard. Finally sad and frustrated, he manages to spot his original shadow and chases it down. It turns out that Vernon, a little pink mouse, has ‘borrowed’ his shadow while he was sleeping. But Colin is not happy with this switch-swap and wants his shadow back. After a heart to heart conversation, Vernon and Colin finally come to an agreement and swap shadows again before having a lot of fun together.

While my son was curious about the interchangeable shadows and the details of the collages making up part of the illustrations, I could not refrain from admiring the various levels this story could be read at . You can look at it as a simple lost&find type of adventure, but the story is also about appearances and the way individuals perceive each other and act accordingly. The fun these two improbable companions eventually have proves everyone wrong in the end, which is a relief.  The ‘all is well that ends well’ cuppa that Colin and Vernon share was a highlight for both my children, who seem to understand instinctively that this special tea&cheese break stands for both resolution and comfort .

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As for me, I loved the attention to texture, layers and details of Hodkinson’s illustrations. Colin’s soft looking fur, Vernon cracker-sofa, and the fun camembert on the back cover all added to my enjoyment. There are several other books by this author including one starring Colin again, so I suspect we will be reading more of these this summer…and you may read more about them in another post.

(To be continued)

 

Claude our favorite French dog, but is he really?

We read our first Claude: Claude and the City about three years ago as an inspired librarians had displayed it with a bunch of other books recommended for early readers. I suspect my daughter, who was then 5, picked it up partly because it was long enough to look like a paperback, which to her was what grown ups read, so something she should aspire to. But this random pick turned out to be a great discovery for the two of us! After all what’s not to like about a smart and cheeky dog, who loves cakes and wears a stylish red beret?!

So when my son picked up Claude at the Circus on a recent visit to our local independent bookseller, it was like being re-united with an old friend.C. particularly loves Claude’s sidekick, Mr Bobblysock, who may smell a bit like cheese but who can always be relied on in an emergency.

I love the retro feel of Alex T. Smith’s illustrations and the humour of his books. For some reason (maybe the colour palette) they remind me of Ian Falconer’s Olivia, another quirky and cheeky character. To me, all the Claude books are a delight to read aloud, and it is fun to see how little people instantly recognize his knowing grin when he thinks about lovely buns or pretends to be asleep after he’s come back home just on time to fool his owners, Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes.

As to his French flair, what can I say?! I am biased! He wears his red beret with elegance and uses it as a fantastic stash for things he needs. He can tap dance but does not like to stretch much. And he loves a good cup of tea and a nap in the park, two of my favourite things… So if you need to polish your French before your next holiday or if you’d like a good laugh, go to your library or buy one of Alex T. Smith’s Claude books, I promise you, you will not regret it.

Additional ressources:

  • Want to know how to draw Claude? Follow this easy tutorial!
  • Want to polish your French? Why go for Berlitz or Lonely Planet when you have Claude’s essential phrasebook?

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  • Finally British Readers, next time you’re stuck for ideas when your child asks you for a costume the day before World Book day: think Claude! Red beret (which can be knitted in an evening, I swear) red sweater and you’re good to go!

 

Les sanglots longs du violon de Carotte, or how a carrot learns that the violin is really not for her

Si on en croit le dicton français ‘la musique adoucit les moeurs’ mais la pauvre carotte, héroine de cette collaboration entre Isabelle Jacqué et Jacques Leroy, a bien du mal à voir les fruits de son labeur refléter cet adage.

Tous les mercredis, elle prend des leçons et une fois rentrée chez elle, elle pratique religieusement mais rien n’y fait, quoi qu’elle fasse, son violon ne produit que le même grincement affreux. Triste et à bout d’idées, Carotte tombe un jour sur Petit Pois qui lui aussi ne tire que des sons affreux de sa clarinette. C’est alors que Petit pois curieux suggère un échange et qu’un miracle survient. Je ne vous en dit pas plus, si ce n’est que cet album se termine en fanfare et sur une fin heureuse.

Ce livre de petit format est parfait pour les petites mains dés 2 ans. Il est très résistant, et l’histoire n’est ni trop longue, ni trop courte avec juste une à deux phrases par page. Le jeune lecteur a amplement le temps de profiter des jolies illustrations colorées et de rire des mésaventures de ces deux musiciens en herbe.

Si votre petit bout aime bien cette histoire de couacs et les personnages de Carotte et Petit Pois, il peut les retrouver dans d’autres titres de la série intitulée Tomate, Cerise et Companie qui se passe au pays de Fruigume. La maman de Julie et Laura propose sur son blog un résumé enthousiaste de Framboise fait sa princesse. Nous ne l’avons pas lu mais aimons bien les soeurs jumelles Cerisette et Cerisa qui apprennent dans Les cerises veulent tout faire ensemble à profiter de leurs expérience en solo.

Envie de prolonger le plaisir? Une superbe idée de peinture sur cailloux, adaptable à tous les ages, vous attend par ici!

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Today, my objective is not to discuss the reasons why French children supposedly don’t throw food, this polemic is old news and anyway not that interesting. What I’d like to do however is to show you how vegetables can be really cute characters in children’s  books.

In this short and sweet little book, Carotte  attends music lessons every single week. She also practices the violin regularly in a desperate attempt to make music. But her determination is useless, and it is only after meeting Petit Pois that she realises that maybe she’s just chosen the wrong instrument. Thanks to his simple suggestion to switch instruments, Carotte discovers that she is a talented oboe player! What a surprise! The end is, as you would expect, a joyful symphony and the cacophony preceding this happy ending is guarantee to make your kids laugh.

We’ve only read three books out of this short series but they’re all very colourful and full of funny rhymes or lines. This is a nice alternative if you are looking for books in which animals are not protagonists. And who knows, they might subtly turn your picky eater into a little foodie? One can always dream, right?!

Finally, if you’re looking for a crafty activity that can easily be adapted to all ages, I cannot recommend enough Liska’s idea in this post and her excellent blog. Go and have a look!

A green paradise right by the overground: the Geffrye Museum

Right now  London is hot, so hot  actually that the tube has become a place where it would be illegal to transport livestock! The holidays have also just started for school age children and now is a good time to think about what to do with them. I am not the kind of parent who whines about the long days to be filled during the summer break, not that I don’t long for time on my own from time to time, but I try to see these six weeks as an opportunity to slow down and to enjoy places we do not go to as often as I would ideally like.

One of these places is the Geffrye museum, and it can be reached by overground, which you will be glad to read is air conditioned.  Whether you have a toddler or an older child matters very little because the place has wonderful things for everyone!

Active children will love running in the front gardens, little artists will love the amazing (and free) activities lined up this summer, and parents will no doubt enjoy the peaceful herb garden and period gardens at the back of the main building.  The museum itself is all about the home and you can take a peek through a typical living room throughout time which is a very interesting experience. For those interested in a taster or if you want to prolong your visit, the kid’s zone online gives you plenty of options, from designing a Victorian room to colouring a beautiful oil lamp.

In short,  if you’re too hot to face the tube or too broke to go to the cinema, then hop on the overground to Hoxton and enjoy this great place!

Boubou et la forêt cracra, Boubou&crap literature in French

I started this blog thinking it would be a handy space first to make a somewhat durable note of the places we’ve been to and enjoyed. I also hoped that it could act as a sort of repository that could be searched by key term. At the moment, we live in London and our children kids are educated in English in a nearby school so, naturally, we read a lot of English books. It was therefore logical for me to write this blog in English. But we are also a bilingual family. So I’ve had a long thought and changed my mind on the monolingual nature of this blog.

Why should I deny francophone or francophile readers the pleasure of hearing about books in French? After all, I love reading reviews of books on French blogs like Les Lectures de Kit , Tu l’as lu(strucru)? and Chez Gaelle la libraireAnd what about teachers of French as a foreign language? Couldn’t they benefit from reviews of French books? There must be people out there like myself who are interested in hearing about good books in French for young readers.

To make sure keen English readers are not being deprived, I will add a short note in English when doing reviews of French books, not a translation really, but just a kind of short taster.

Bon voilà, ce vendredi je me décide finalement à rédiger mon premier billet en français que j’espère hebdomadaire et que j’ai décidé d’appeler, inspirée par Library Mice et ses French Fridays. Après avoir évoqué brièvement la période parfois éreintante de l’apprentissage de la propreté, je me suis dis qu’il serait agréable de revenir sur une des lectures qui nous fait toujours sourire et même rire: Boubou et la forêt cracra.

Dans ce livre (qui appartient à une longue série d’aventures) Boubou, un petit Pygmée au départ d’excellente humeur, met le pied dans un gros caca fumant et se met en colère contre les animaux qui  souillent la forêt. Après les avoir fait nettoyer, il les écoute expliquer quelles tactiques ils ont adoptées pour dissimuler ou gérer leur déjections. Leurs méthodes ont beau être différentes, elles sont toutes imparfaites, ce qui fait enrager Boubou de plus belle! Finalement Bembé l’éléphant est celui qui fournit à cet album coloré son apogée comique, Je ne vous en dirai pas plus, histoire de vous laisser la surprise, mais disons que cette histoire en boucle est franchement désopilante.

Pour ceux insensibles à l’humour scatologique mais intéressés par l’équilibre entre la faune, la flore et les populations locales ou la culture pygmée, Cyril Hahn propose des fiches pédagogiques bien fichues sur le site de Casterman. Quant à moi, je suis toujours surprise des comparaisons impromptues que nos lectures génèrent. Rien que ce soir mon plus jeune me déclarait au sortir du bain: “Bembé, il est beaucoup plus gros que les soeurs taupes mais lui aussi il fait des gros trous partout qui mettent les gens en colère”. Son rapprochement est indéniable même si sa logique est pour le moins inattendue. Serait-ce un signe que nous avons dans la famille un futur éthologue? Ou devrais-je interpréter cette remarque autrement et chercher à varier nos plaisirs de lecture en choisissant pour un temps des lectures moins anthropomorphiques? Et moi qui voulait vous parler vendredi prochain de Charles un sublime petit dragon maladroit…il va maintenant falloir que j’y réfléchisse.

Des préférences ou des avis tranchés sur la question? N’hésitez pas et manifestez-vous dans les commentaires!

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Boubou et la forêt cracra tells the story of a young Pygmy warrior who slips not a on a banana skin but on poo. Like the little mole who goes from animal to animal after getting quite cross, Boubou listens to animals like the crocodile and the parrot who explain to him how they intend to make amends and deal with the mess they make in the forest. Most of their strategies are ineffective yet highly comical and the details of each generate in our household roars of laughter. Believe me when I say that this is not a didactic classic but a light and fun evocation of life in a jungle not so different from that of our cities!


 

Hey you, did you poo on my head?

I bought Werner Holzwarth and Wolf’s Erlbruch’s book The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it was None of his Business well before any of my children could read. If I remember well I bought it when pregnant with my first child based on the recommendation of my Norwegian friend, who said it was one of her daughter’s favourites.

The version I have is in French, but it’s been translated from German into many languages as it is considered one of the classics of ‘crap literature’. One day as the little mole pops her head out, she gets pooped on by an unidentified animal. Indignant, she goes on a quest to find the culprit and get revenge. Her quest leads her to question a pigeon, a horse, a rabbit, a goat, a cow, a pig, and finally two expert flies who confirm that she needs to look for a dog.

Now this story is fun and engaging, not only because all kids from the age of say approximately two to six love talking about poo, but also because it is a great way to discuss strong emotions like frustration, anger, and relief. I am sure this book played a role in having my kids going on poo hunts when walking in the nearby woods, they would look and try to identify which animal had done their business by the trees or on the leaves.

We have several nature guides that honestly we only use from time to time, but it never occurred to me to search for a proper poo chart, and what a mistake! Woodland trust has wonderful resources if you’re hoping to enjoy the outdoors this summer, whether you’re planning a picnic or building an obstacle course!

So if you’re looking for a funny book, a story where the little one outdoes the big, or if you want a break from the didactic books you usually get around your child’s potty training years whose message is: ‘be a good boy/girl and do a poo-poo where your parents tell you to’, then read this one!

Being unproductive and loving it

As parents or carers, we are often told that one of our roles is  to stimulate our children by for instance filling up their days with activities from music classes to swimming lessons. Even medical professionals advise parents to read to their babies now!

I don’t intend this blog to become a parenting forum where one could debate and criticise the attitudes of so called tiger mums or idle parents. Caricatures may be fun to read about, but I don’t think they help to find your own way of parenting your kids.

I believe however that we could all gain from being reminded sometimes that it is not only pleasant but also formative to slow down and to do absolutely nothing.

The adventures of the mole sisters, a series of books by the author and illustrator Roslyn Schwartz, are just perfect to remind you that sometimes we should all take it easy and enjoy the little moments we spend together. L., my oldest was a big fan of the simple stories and gorgeous illustrations, and she would often marvel at the details and colours of the wavy wheat or the dandelions. Now her brother (who’s just turned four) has recently taken to the mole sisters too, but he seems to be more interested in acting up the stories and repeating the sisters’ advice or dialogue such as: ‘Sometimes it’s important to do nothing!’

Each of their stories can be read separately, some are rather comical, other almost philosophical. At home we have The mole sisters and the wavy wheat and another volume gathering all of their adventures with ten different stories, a must for serial readers! For early readers and preschoolers, these are perfect, short and sweet, funny and light.

They have been translated and animated (although I cannot tell you first hand whether the cartoon version is any good) and like many classics, they have made their mark on children. If you don’t believe me, go and see the photos of this incredible cake with the mole sisters and the wavy wheat made by a fifteen year old for her sister’s birthday!

Because we love moles, bees and bugs at least in our books, expect a few other posts on these creatures soon…and feel free to comment and add your own reading suggestions as we are about to embark on our yearly summer reading challenge at the local library.

 

 

Three little pigs at the Little Angel Theatre

This week in the UK teachers are on strike, so we’ve decided on our free day to go and see a new version of one of our favourite stories The three little pigs at the lovely Little Angel Theatre in North London.

We have several versions of this traditional story at home and I thought that we would all enjoy this new twist that includes balloons and a not so scary wolf.

This show really is an impressive one man show. With very few props but his very special huffer and puffer, Danny Schlesinger manages to engage the children and to re-tell the classic story of the three little pigs and the  big bad wolf. Using his marvelously twisted balloons, many facial expressions and mimics, and a great soundscape&music, he had my kids laughing and even helping to blow the houses down! The final ‘pop’ is funny and far from the more cannibalistic ending of the traditional tale.

Parents and children will rediscover the story together with  delight and enjoy it anew in this vibrant and comical new version. A great show by circus Ridiculoso!

For those who want a taster, here is a short video.

 

Additional resources for parents and children:

  • Parents who want more information on the origin of the story and its many versions can trust Heidi Anne Heilner’s impressive website.
  • Those interested in having an on-the-go version may want to check out this app.
  • Activities abound online but I like in particular these colouring pages, and these ideas for activities, including brown playdough.
  • We like pigs in this house so if you’re like us read Florentine and Pig have a very lovely picnic, reviewed in the excellent blog Playing by the book here. We recently attended a reading by Eva Katzler, the author and had a great time!

 

 

The foundling hospital, discover this (almost) hidden gem

Last Sunday we decided to explore Bloomsbury, a neighborhood in central London well known for its literary figures including Virginia Woolf. Our destination was the foundling museum which is just next to the lovely playground and animal farm in Coram Fields.

We learnt tons of interesting facts and, coming to think of it, it’s a bit sad that this place seems overshadowed by other local attractions. Believe me, it really is a hidden gemDid you know, for instance, that the foundling hospital was the first home for abandoned children as well as London’s first public art gallery? That right now you can enjoy Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences? And that it has a great cafe too? Now what are you waiting to go?!

My eight year old daughter wanted to go because she had read about this place in Hetty Feather, one of Jacqueline Wilson’s novels.  Hetty Feather is an endearing and strong-minded character and the fact that the story takes place in Victorian England was part of the original appeal for her. Now of course, this got her started on a long series of other reads including Sapphire Battersea, Emerald Star and Diamond. Like many other young readers, she has become a bit of a Wilson fan, although one with an acute sense of which are her real favorites.

As for our visit, I can truly say that it was a hit with the four of us but interestingly for  different reasons. My (almost) four year old son was fascinated by the details of Perry’s tapestries and bombarded me with endless quasi-metaphysical questions. My daughter really enjoyed the details about life in the orphanage and she also had a ball making magic wands with her brother downstairs as part of one of the museum’s family activities. As a historian, my husband liked the way the curating team had used the archives, even if he had to spend quite a bit of time trying to prevent our son from gate-crashing Jacqueline Wilson’s talk (which was sold out of course). As for me, I found the recorded testimonies and some of the recent art projects made by Davina Drummond and children at the Great Ormond Street Hospital particularly moving.

In short, if you are stuck for ideas for this coming summer, then go and visit  this place! It is worth your time and with a national art pass you have no excuse since it is free!

 

Awesome reading spaces

I am of those who believes that reading should be done everywhere and anywhere . I admire lovely reading nooks  online but in our house there isn’t one designated area to read. Maybe this is because   we have bookcases and/or books in all the rooms (but the bathroom), oh my does that make us book-freaks?!

Anyway, this post is to inspire those who believe that specific spaces can encourage even reluctant readers. This Spanish practice creates original places for kids and their reading net and secret reading projects are really fab and fun.

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